The re-birth of Talaingod
Text and photos by Gina Mission

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One of three classrooms in Talaingod

The road sign said we were entering the town of Kapalong. Our guide, however, assured us that we were in Talaingod - technically, and with everybody’s consent.

___Talaingod is a neophyte in the League of Municipalities, having been officially proclaimed as one only in 1991, through Executive Order 7180. Its three-term mayor, Jose Libayao, claims there are about 200,000 indigenous peoples (IPs) living in the 65,000-hectare municipal area composed of three barangays. These figures, however, are "negotiable," like the town’s income, depending on who the mayor is talking to.

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Jose Libayao, Talaingod's three-term mayor

___How Talaingod, which means "God’s chosen people," became tangled into a string of white lies, is a story that Libayao likes to tell.

___"I was the tribal chieftain of Kapalong then, working with Manuel Elizalde of the former Presidential Assistance for National Minorities (Panamin)," Libayao recalled. But during the 1997 local elections, Libayao filed his candidacy for mayor of Kapalong. "They asked me why I was running when I was already the tribal chieftain. I told them that I wanted to focus my services on the indigenous peoples (IP) of Talaingod."

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Talaingod schoolchildren: "God's chosen people"

___Afraid that the IPs might actually topple them from power, Libayao relates that "some politicians from Davao del Norte" approached him and offered to make Talaingod a municipality so he could file his candidacy there, and leave Kapalong politics alone. Since most of the IPs in Kapalong live in Talaingod, Libayao agreed.

___But there were some technical problems. Talaingod did not meet the required population for a chartered municipality. Nor did it meet the required income. Elizalde and Paul Dominguez, who was then Presidential Assistant for Mindanao, looked for solutions. Consequently, Talaingod "borrowed" three barangays from Kapalong. Alcantara and Sons, a logging concessionaire in Kapalong, offered to pay its taxes in Talaingod (it was paying taxes in Kapalong). In July 1991, Talaingod became a town.

___The story of the making of Talaingod, however, is not without the bitter taste of life’s harsh realities.

___"For the whole time we were under Kapalong, there was hardly any development project that reached the people of Talaingod," recalled Libayao. The explanation, he said, is as simple as parents protecting the interests of their children. "We are IPs and those in power were Christians. Naturally, they would accommodate their own kind first; never mind the IPs," the mayor told CyberDyaryo.

___Unmindful of the legal implications the political sleight of hand would cost them, Libayao reasoned that the town could have never become what it is today if the people behind its creation had been totally up front about everything. "Sometimes you have to make up stories to liberate your people. I believe it was a better decision," he said.

___Even Onik Andaya, who does not know how old she is, does not mind that her town was conceived in lies. "Before, there was nowhere we could go to for medical assistance. Now, all we have to do is come here and tell them our problems," she said, referring to the municipal hall where the town’s political and economic activities are centralized.

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Ageless Talaingod women: Onik Andaya and Layna Anlungay (with child)

___Located 89 kilometers north of Davao City, Talaingod boasts of rich natural resources. It has 6,000 hectares of virgin forest. Its Municipal Development Council has identified areas suitable for rubber, pineapple and abaca plantations, and upland rice and corn farming. It hosts the 500-ft. Nabantalan Cave, the 500-ft. Mt. Masimalon, the 60-meter Kalapatan Falls, and the seven-hectare Kilomayon Lake.

___But the living conditions of the Talaingod people are a stark contrast to its rich natural resources. The cluster of houses visible from the municipal hall – built on a mountain top around 900 feet above sea level – are makeshift huts made of bamboo and cogon grass. According to the municipal administrator, Gerardo Roben, Jr., an average of eight family members, are crammed in each household. About 75 per cent of the people are engaged in slash-and-burn farming. An elementary school, another makeshift structure, serves more than 400 elementary students from around the municipal center. Lacking the necessary rooms, pupils from two different grades occupy the same classroom. Every now and then, the students are absent from class because, said Roben, "they don’t have food to eat."

___The peace and order situation and the seeming lack of vision of the leaders of the place left Talaingod’s rich natural resources untapped for a long time and the people lived under miserable conditions. Libayao admitted that, prior to 1991, Talaingod, was a "training ground" for the New People’s Army (NPA). Children as young as 12 years old were carrying guns and joining the NPA. The IPs, he said, were vulnerable to the recruitment campaigns of the NPA when they could not see any plans for them from the government. "Disillusioned" is how the mayor described the people of Talaingod then.

___"But not anymore," the mayor declared. For eight years, both government officials and constituents have worked together to build what they now call the "new Talaingod." They might not be as successful as they want to be – which, as Libayao said, is understandable, given the limited capability of the town and its people – but they are consoled by the fact that they are now making their own decisions. In the words of Layna Anlungay, another woman who doesn’t know her age, "What Talaingod is now is what we have worked it up to be. We are building our own future."

___In the eight years since Talaingod become a town, it has risen from a sixth class municipality earning an income of P250,000 and receiving an internal revenue allocation (IRA) of P6 M , to a fourth class one with an annual income of P500,000 and an IRA of P18 M in 1995. In the year 2000, Talaingod is bent on rising to a third or second class municipality, which, as the mayor said, is not impossible, now that they have entered into a partnership with the Multi-Equipment and Consultancy Services, Inc. (MECS).

___MECS is a consultancy firm that makes master plans for socio-economic development for municipalities. The idea is to provide municipalities planning services for development that are consistent with sustainability, and the preservation of the environment and indigenous culture. In the case of Talaingod, development will be in two forms: economic development and personal and social upliftment.

___Economic development will take the form of developing agro-industry and tourism, since Talaingod has rich natural resources. Social upliftment will be in the form of literacy and health enhancement programs. All these, the mayor said, are aimed at giving the people of Talaingod the chance to improve their lives by making use of what is available around them in a way that will improve their lives and sustain the environment at the same time.

___The term "self-determination" may sound as alien to the people of Talaingod as knowing one’s age, but they are surely going in that direction.

CyberDyaryo | 1999.08.12